My friend and former teacher Joe Cameron, in his post "H.C.-B. in Ink" last Friday, mentioned Ralph Gibson:
But I also remember hearing the photographer Ralph Gibson suggest once that the deep rich black of printer’s ink came closer to conveying his ideas than the silver of printing paper. He was glad to sell 'original prints' to collectors but he implied that the book pages holding his images were truer to his vision.
As I often try to do when people are mentioned or referenced in our posts—I am forever casting lines into the water—I emailed the link to Ralph, saying, parenthetically, "I know you love books." Here's his reply, which came in yesterday morning:
Apropos your invitation I will respond by adding that now, 20 years later, the digital revolution is coming of age in the truest sense. We are beginning to understand exactly what the net does and does not do... Obviously many forms of communication and research have been massively enhanced via electronic media. However it seems that the photography book is holding strong. Very strong indeed. Let's examine why this is the case.
I believe that the alchemy of light on film informs a kind of content that is not remotely duplicated by electronic imaging systems. These systems transfer information with great precision but a silver gelatin photograph transcends the subject and leads one into much higher levels of content. For this reason the photograph per se remains firmly positioned in the social aesthetic matrix.
The exact same is true of the photography book. Issues such as tactility, luminosity and rhythm on the printed page are not in any way equaled by the image on the digital display.
I don't want to sound like one of those cave-men who resented the invention of papyrus...I own several computers and love doing the layout and scans for my books as well as composing music and burning CDs etc. It's all great. I only want to state clearly that the book will surely prevail....
I only hope that these sentiments are shared by future generations.
Of major photographers, Ralph Gibson is even more closely identified than most with the printed page. He founded Lustrum Press in 1970 to publish his own work as well as a series of "process-oriented" technical books and monographs by other photographers, the most famous (or infamous) of which was probably Larry Clark's pioneering portrait of the drug underworld, Tulsa, reprinted in 2000 by Grove Press. Along the way, he helped make the reputations of a number of photographers who are well established now, such as Mary Ellen Mark.
A spread from Ralph Gibson's 1973 book Déjà-vu. Photo courtesy CCP.
There was a show at the Center for Creative Photography in 2007 called "Ralph Gibson and Lustrum Press, 1970–1984" which chronicled Gibson's influence as a publisher.
Where his own work is concerned, Ralph Gibson works through the medium of books—with design, sequencing, and juxtaposition—such that his printed books are essentially single artworks. Ironically, though, his website has an archive of his work that is more comprehensive than the online gallery of almost any other photographer of his stature.
MikeFeatured Comment by CK Dexter Haven: "I would be thrilled to have an email from Ralph Gibson. Certainly, one of my photographic 'heroes.' However, an actual letter from him would be just the cat's. Something about the luminosity of ink on paper that just can't be reproduced by pixels on screen."